Collaborative Project–McDonough/Zhao-East Meets West



INSTRUCTORS/CREATORS: Carolyn A. McDonough and Jing Zhao

Communication among cultures has become increasingly frequent in an age of globalization, making cross-cultural communication skills essential in the tool kit of a modern day college/university student. As instructors in higher education, how do we assist undergraduate students in both the opportunities afforded through such instantaneous global communication and the challenge digital era post-millennial communication presents?

This 100-level course for undergraduate students will explore the question through an interdisciplinary approach combining two inherently multidisciplinary fields of study: Language Studies and Media Studies.

“Culture” is an extremely profound concept that can be approached from various angles. “Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [human beings] as members of society,” as described by British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor. The term “culture” is complex in nature and studied by various disciplines, especially those under the larger umbrellas of the humanities and social sciences. Teaching “cross-cultural communication” therefore, is an interdisciplinary act incorporating multidisciplinary knowledge and interdisciplinary methodologies.

As instructors of Chinese language and Media Studies, we are keenly aware of the complexity of language, culture, media and educational technology. We were inspired to create a course on the intersectionality of these in the larger context of cross-cultural communication. We will combine our individual disciplinary approaches pedagogically as “critical co-investigators” and culminate the course with the “student as producer” in the Final Project. (Rosen and Smale, Open Digital Pedagogy=Critical Pedagogy, 2015)

The interdisciplinarity and cross-cultural communication focus of this course thereby also speaks to the concept of “connectivism” in both higher education and modern culture-at-large. “Learning is a process of connecting entities” and the “ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts” is a core skill. (Stephen Downes, Elements of Connectivism, 2011) Our course design is thus an embodiment of connectivism. Students are encouraged to make connections between elements of “culture” through various disciplines, some of which they may have little or no prior knowledge to access or experience in studying.  

Siemens points out the importance of “unknown knowledge” by stating that “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” (George Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, 2004)

This new cultural imperative, then, is the mandate of the student/citizen in the post-millennial digital, global era: that of being connected and making connections among various disciplines. Siemens emphasizes “[T]he starting point of connectivism is the individual” (Siemens, 2004) as the locus of a network which becomes an organization.

Learning, however, is not entirely under the control of the individual, according to Siemens.

Therefore, in order to make connections in interdisciplinary learning, students need to collaborate. For this reason, it is required that students work in teams of two to complete their Final Project. They will also need to research effective tools/resources and to present the results of critically utilizing them.

The course itself will become a network example of Siemens’s connectivism. 

Digital tools are thereby inherent in the course design and are an embodiment of establishing such networks for learning. Students will be required to use multimedia resources, and the “languages” of different media, to demonstrate a collaboratively established network. Critical thinking is highly engaged when encountering media texts and it is also enlivening to encounter new types of media in both teaching and learning.

Description of Final Project:

Students will be required to create a visual “academic ad campaign” in the form of a digital media flyer/poster/handout/online ad, etc. that promotes cross-cultural exchange via language study between universities. Students must conceptualize, design and create a visual that would be seen on campus, or on the university’s website, announcing an opportunity to study another language abroad, in the language of a host university.

For example, a flyer at the University of Florence would announce an exchange program to “STUDY CHINESE IN CHINA” written in Italian. Conversely, a flyer at the University of Beijing would announce an exchange program to “STUDY ITALIAN IN ITALY” written in Chinese.

In teams of two students per team, choose two universities from two different cultures. Research your choices. Collaborate by comparing and combining your research.  Design an ”academic ad” to announce and promote cultural exchange via a language study program. Your joint findings should inform the ad’s content while also communicating cross-cultural exchange through language study.

The following components are required in the Final Project:

-Digital Media Design (sourcing visual media/collecting visual media)

-Language and cultural references and/or symbols intended to promote, convey and facilitate cross-cultural communication.  

Your team will be responsible for creating TWO different “academic ads”. Please see the following visual example:


We encourage you to research print ads, posters, online ads, broadcast ads, travel publications, travel websites, cover art, artwork found in scholarly journals, etc., and DON’T FORGET to also look around while going about your day. We are surrounded, indeed barraged, by visual images and these can often spark ideas.


Digital design tools must be used and may range from basic Microsoft Office or more advanced digital design software such as Adobe Photoshop. Feel free to explore the many free photo editing apps like PicLab and filter apps, or go “old-school” by creating a hands-on collage of images from magazines (but this MUST be scanned in to a digital format and submitted digitally.)

The Final Project is to be submitted/posted digitally in .jpg or pdf file format to the class blog site. Peer review is highly encouraged.

The criteria we will use to evaluate and assess the Final Project and fulfilling its requirements are: 

-overall digital media design

-use of language and symbol

-does the ad/meme convey a sense of connectivism?

-is the ad culturally sensitive and gender friendly?

-was care employed in the design and in the use of digital technology to disseminate media?

Rationale for Final Project:


Technology is key in achieving connectivism. In a globalized era, in real time or asynchronously online, it is essential to seek the positive aspects of different cultures for peaceful co-existence in shared spaces, both physically and virtually. Therefore, the tone of our course is one of “care” toward our students, our network, our organization, and so on, in the hope of helping students identify, analyze, and apply the “nurturing” aspects of technology to enhance cross-cultural communication.

Using technology in a responsible and “caring” manner to discover the more “humane” side of technology instead of treating technology as “neutral” and emotionless  is very important in developing a “humane” attitude toward using “objects”. This kinder attitude will assist students in learning how to deal with the culture of technology upon us, which has become a part of everyday life globally, as they embark upon careers, while fostering both connection and cross-cultural communication.

Carolyn A. McDonough is a non-matric in the ITP Certificate Program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She is applying for the MA in Digital Humanities and holds her first MA in Media Studies with a BA in Medieval & Renaissance Studies. She enjoys how her degrees come together in the field of the Digital Humanities and is interested in cultural studies.

Jing Zhao is a student of Masters of Liberal Studies program at CUNY Graduate Center, digital humanities track. He is also a Chinese language teacher and translator. He is interested in studying the affordances of educational technology and second language teaching.

Developing a lab for working with digital media

I am involved in a wonderful project to develop a Film and Media Lab at Bard Early College (BHSEC Queens). I was very sure about what I would be doing in this class: writing a grant for a lab.

But as the discussions progressed for the project more issues seemed to come up. If it is a Film and Media Lab then is it going to be just a place to make or study film? And then how is Media Studies involved with Film Studies? As we were contemplating this question we realized that the acronym would be FML!  Do we want it to be FML when we are teaching HS age students? Perhaps not.

Maybe then we can have it as a Film and New Media Lab… maybe that would fix the bridge between media and film. But still it was becoming hard to envision this as a space for film screenings and film production work or a place to teach kids python or other forms of digital literacy.

Maybe we should just keep it Digital Media Lab or Digital Media Arts Lab?

These are the small funny little discussions my colleague Suzanne Schulz and I are finding ourselves in as we develop this digi-lab.

Fortunately, we have a supportive administration. And we were able to articulate ourselves well enough to win a grant for new equipment.  We were given a grant for a cart of laptops, with some film editing software (which ones we are not sure yet).  Some boxes that we thought were tech for recordings turned out to be a lectern.  So we have a little more waiting and seeing before we have a full inventory.

The next step is agreeing up on a room where we can test-run this mobile digital media lab. We have a very long semester that lasts until June, so perhaps we may start well after the semester ends here at GC.

Space has been an issue all on its own. In our small space, BHSECQ is two floors in the LaGuardia Community College building, we have the choice of either a small windowless room that fits only 18 students, or a windowless room that fits 25 students but is L-shaped. Then there is a room that stores old chairs and broken office furniture. Perhaps we can clear it out and create a video editing room and a training room? But then this is also the room with a vent that connects straight into the cafeteria…

My project is to raise more funding and fully define, along with my colleague and friend, Suzanne Schulz, at BHSEC Queens a mission statement for the… well, what seems to be best described as a making space, so perhaps we will keep it as a The Digital Media Arts Lab. We hope to train students and faculty in audio and visual communication, or we are training students and faculty in increasing their digital literacy (still debating which sounds better as a mission statement or grant request line). We will definitely be creating a space for experimentation and play.

What is interesting is that with students at this age level, we need to go through a special office for permission to post video/media works that students put together that show their face. (This makes sense and it is a simple process, but something I had never thought of before!)

I was thinking that I could also use this class to develop a workshop for faculty around complicating the notion of the canon. Our students are protesting the predominantly Greek and Italian material in First Year Seminar. But I will revisit this once again in another week. We are still working on a mission statement and the goal is to complete it by April 9th.

We have some amazing students who are working with us. They will be sharing their video and digital media projects to a proposed website that will showcase their work.

I will make an official list of what we got and what we still need. I believe we received about $25000 because the laptops are equipped to edit video. Thank you for offering this space for me to think through some of the planning of this space. We have an amazing tech specialist at BHSECQ Adam Rhodes and a young filmmaker Sara Aboobaker to help develop this ______Lab!


Jing Zhao Project proposal

I am posting the link to my project proposal here This project was conceived during my Digital Praxis Course last semester. During this semester, I have to do a group project for that class, so I decided to keep developing my project in this class. One of the problems that stopped me from continuing with the project was that I didn’t know how to study the use of a technology, such as “wiki”, in second language classrooms through analyzing academic papers on such topics with text analysis tools. In this semester, I found that the concept of “affordance” is potentially useful for solving this problem. In  Seven Affordances of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: How to Support Collaborative Learning? How Can Technologies Help? The authors developed a very useful framework for analyzing the use of technology. In this framework, there are seven affordances: establishing a joint task, communication, sharing resources, engaging in productive processes, engaging in co-construction, monitoring and regulation, and finding building groups and communities. I am thinking maybe I can use topic modeling to analyze the academic papers and see if the results of a single technology can fall into these categories. In addition, the book Digital Technology as Affordance and Barrier in Higher Education inspired me. The categories of mobile/fixed technology can be applied to my project when I am categorizing the technologies  discussed in the academic papers that are analyzed through text analysis tools.

Natacha’s Preliminary Project Brief

My project is to build an app for beginners to advanced French language users. The idea of that app emanates from the observation that many of my undergraduate students sometimes lack a platform in which they could broaden their knowledge of French. That is, they are most of the time restricted to what is proposed to them by the curriculum. This app is not then intended for students I usually call ‘class passers’ who are fine with what is offered – and at the time even  find it too much, but rather to those I call ‘Knowledge hunters’, actually willing to expand their learning perspectives

My target users are thus students, but this might be extended to any French culture and language lovers. I intend to provide them with a plate-form, an environment to express themselves through blogging, video, and live chat. In addition,   I will provide a space in which they could have updated news from the French and francophone world, namely from broadcasts as   RFI, or  Africa N 1. Furthermore,  I think of spaces where ‘clients’ could explore possibilities of traveling to   France  or  any others francophone countries(  and have a weekly or daily  playlist  of  French songs, and  connections to French  shopping sites(  fashion industry, museums, bookstores, etc.)

Because most students are ‘glued’ on their i-phones or smartphones, it would be more attractive if the app is deployed on a mobile phone carrier, in such a way that they could carry it along with them everywhere. That proximity and availability of their phone could develop a ‘positive’ addiction to French or francophone-related custom and usage, in such a way as to provide a type of natural-like immersive language environment.

Building such an app is surely a challenging task for someone who is still at his very debut in designing and programming. I know from what I tried to gather here and there that I would have to master the HTLM5  and the Java script languages which I don’t know yet.  However, the good point is that I am a hard-working person and a fast learner.